Sunday, July 9, 2017

House of Kaws, Maharajgunj

In this guest post, Avinash Kachroo shares the story of a house in Srinagar

Pt. Swaroop Nath Kaw from Vicharnaag, was the eldest son of Pt. Sahajram Kaw. He was employed as a teacher in a village further away and had to travel a fair distance everyday. He would make a pit stop along the way - which must have been a popular one with people from all walks of life, wool sellers, weavers, embroidery craftsmen etc also crossing roads. Over some time he learnt that the popular shawl/carpet trade was not integrated and artisans only did specific tasks making money at each step. Contrary to his father's wishes he invested some money in trading and made a neat sum, sufficient to convince his father to accept his decision of diving into the business fully and thus giving up his "cushy" teaching job.

Pt. Swaroopnath made a good fortune and decided to move to Maharajgunj in Srinagar - a hot bed of trade those days. He built a house which comprised of four buildings right on Jhelum, a few homes down from Khanqah. While the first building had his dewankhana where he met visitors, the second comprised family quarters and subsequent ones even had a carpet factory. There is neighborhood folklore of how some subsisted on the pashmina wool waste that was disposed off from the factory. Pt. Swaroopnath had his brother Pt. Madhusudan Kaw help him with managing the accounts while he sent off his youngest brother Mukund Lal Kaw to Lahore to gain a degree in medicine. Dr Mukund Kaw came into being one of the earliest medical practitioners of the valley and eventually stayed in the first building of the house. 



Here is a photo of the Kaw family with Pt. Sahajram in the lower row center, his left being Pt Swaroopnath, his right Pt Madhusudhan and top right Dr Mukundlal. The young boy seated in the lower row is Pt Harikishen Kaw, Pt. Swaroopnath's son along with Pt Madhusudan's daughter Batni.


My maternal grandfather Hari Krishen was born in 1920, he looks about 5-6 years old here. So this photograph should date around 1925.





[...]this is very much our house and my father Pt. Hari Krishen Kaw standing at the entrance door after he returned from California in 1988. He is holding a cane and right leg slighted due to his surgery here in San Jose after an accident. In 1990 I met a Cal Berkeley Professor Randolph Langenbach (Also my facebook friend now) in Late Kulbhushan Gupta,s house in Oakland on a Christmas Party. After introduction and pleasantries, he inquired where I originally hailed from. Upon hearing Srinagar, he informed me about his spending two years there as Consultant on environment to Jammu and Kashmir Government and that his speciality was earthquake proof housing. He thought Kasmirian and El-Salvadorian housing were the best earthquake proof housings in the world. He explained something to do with Daji-Deewari, Viram (The long staff) and ductility etc. Upon parting he asked for my address so he would send me his research paper on the subject, he published.Three days later, a tight vanilla envelope arrived by mail and upon pulling the journal slowly from the envelope, the first thing what appeared on the glossy cover of the journal was "American preservation technology journal", further thrust pulling the magazine out revealed the whole glossy cover page with journal name and this particular picture on the front page. [...]

And BTW the house in question has been demolished by people who bought from us and a brand new structure erected taller than 4 stories house we lived in, informs my nephew Avinash Kachroo.

Avinash Kachroo:

The particular building of the group which formed the original household and works of Pt. Sahajram Kaw's sons pictured here ceased to stand when I visited the very spot from where the picture was taken, in 2014 - effecting whatever little closure I needed on Kashmir (having born and raised out of Kashmir). The front building long dispossessed still stood, though extremely dilapidated.
The flight of stone steps had gone and kids stared with a mix of intrigue and curiosity at my intrusive presence

The original river facing building of the household still stood on the very banks which used to be once full of life

My family comes from the Raghunath Temple area of Fateh Kadal. Interestingly, I never visited the temple when we would visit Srinagar during summer each year until my extended joint family sold off that property and we moved out to a new house in Chhanapora. However in 2014 when I visited Srinagar after 25 years, I wanted to visit the temple after the customary visit to the ancestral neighbourhood. We took the kocha to the side door that was closer to our house and was the one my father would take as a kid. However we found that entry had been walled off. We asked some onlooker muslim women who were monitoring the unusual activity and they said the main door from the front was also shut. So we scaled the temple compound wall and found the iconic temple compound and temple building deserted and in absolute mess. The garbha gruha (sanctum sanctorum) doors were missing and so was any trace of the statues. What shocked me was that there was no news of what happened to the temple and why was it in this state. Disappointed, we left the neighbourhood with lots of questions. Any picture of the down town Srinagar is incomplete without Parbat, Khanqah and Raghunath temple - yet this was to befall the landmark.




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